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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Column: Mizzou Athletics and its culture of silence

Suspension usually precedes dismissal, but only once the news hits front pages.

Martenzie Johnson

April 16, 2014

The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.

Here we go again.

After what one would have assumed to be another incident with marijuana, Missouri football player Dorial Green-Beckham was a suspect in the investigation of an April 6 burglary and then dismissed from the football program on Friday.

According to police reports, Green-Beckham forced his way into an off-campus apartment where his girlfriend was visiting in the early morning of April 6. He forced his way past the apartment’s owner, pushed her down at least four stairs and, according to text messages, dragged his girlfriend out of the apartment by her neck.

What Green-Beckham did was despicable; there is no denying that. There have been scores of news articles, tweets and face-to-face-conversations that have highlighted the heinousness of the former Missouri football player’s actions. Throughout the coming weeks — and when Green-Beckham inevitably signs onto another football program or declares for the NFL draft — there will be even more conversations about his character issues.

As much as this specific incident is yet another black eye for the athletic department, there is another pressing issue in the 19-page police report of the incident involving Green-Beckham.

Two of the victims went to the Columbia Police Department on the night of April 6. One victim said she no longer want to press charges against Green-Beckham after speaking with his girlfriend. One of the text messages read: “He will be kicked out of Mizzou and (then) not qualify for the draft next year. The coaches talked to me and explained to (me) how serious this is.”

According to a victim of the crime committed by the Missouri football player, coaches on the team contacted her. Athletic Director Mike Alden has denied those claims, but the recent findings of a UM Board of Curators-commissioned report on the sexual assault allegations of Sasha Menu Courey leaves doubt in anything a Missouri athletics official has to say right now.

This takes us to the culture of Mizzou Athletics. When asked Friday if the athletic department has a culture problem, Alden responded, “No. We don't. … If you look at our athletic program, I think we have an amazing group of students, an amazing group of staff members. I don't think there's any question. Do I believe we have a few kids in particular over the course of the last couple of months that have done things that are inconsistent with our values? Absolutely. That is unacceptable.”

Alden is right. The department has unfortunately had a few bad seeds the past three years, but the culture of the athletic department in general is problematic.

The football program suspended Green-Beckham on April 7, meaning officials knew enough information at the time to take disciplinary action. By Thursday, details of the incident began to emerge from the media, and Green-Beckham was dismissed from the program the next day.

Two weeks ago, former Missouri basketball player Zach Price was arrested twice in one day. An April 2 restraining order against Price by another former player, Earnest Ross, came to light on April 9. The next day, Price was dismissed from the team.

Yet another former basketball player, Michael Dixon, was twice accused of sexual assault in 2010 and 2012. The athletic department at least knew about the 2012 accusation because Dixon was suspended from the team before the media caught wind of the accusations. Before the athletic department could dismiss Dixon, he left the school in November 2012. The latter incident happened in August 2012, which means if the department was going to dismiss Dixon, it would have happened almost three months after officials knew and a just days after The Kansas City Star broke the news.

Mizzou Athletics does not have a culture that breeds rapists, domestic abusers or potheads. The culture it does promote, though, is one that keeps information hidden until news organizations find out. This culture of silence is what led to issues at Penn State, Baylor, Colorado and, on the high school level, Steubenville.

Athletic departments should do everything in their power to protect student-athletes. But remaining hush on accusations against players is only detrimental to the players and the thousands of students who surround them.

It doesn’t matter if Green-Beckham was dismissed on a Monday or Friday, but it is problematic when athletic departments simply suspend student-athletes without providing a reason. When we think back to Dixon and former football player Derrick Washington, a Missouri athlete was allowed to play even after being accused of sexual assault. Could the second accusation in 2012 have been prevented if action had been taken against Dixon in 2010?

No one knows. We can blame the culture of silence for that.

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